Universal testing controversy raises debate within pro-Beijing camp
CE’s trip to Beijing postponed, prelude to next CE election
In the past week, some of the more prominent political news include: the editorial of Ta Kung Pao bombarding Carrie Lam's cabinet two days in a row for their ineffectiveness in fighting the epidemic, and denounced their mentality as unacceptable. CY Leung, Cheung Chi-kong and Chris Wat all slammed Carrie Lam for being ineffective and not introducing universal virus testing resolutely, causing successive waves outbreak in the city. Cheung Chi-kong even said CE’s trip to Beijing was suddenly adjourned because her performance against COVID-19 has left leaders in Beijing “speechless”. Pro-Beijing parties, such as DAB, FTU and New People’s Party, have asked the government to introduce universal virus testing. This controversy has led to speculation in the political arena that the pro-Beijing camp is having an internal dispute, with different factions wrestling over the CE election campaign at the end of next year.
The main reason for the government’s resistance to mandatory universal testing is that it is not feasible. Government health experts point out that the Mainland has the conditions to implement universal testing, such as imposing a curfew, but Hong Kong does not. Most people have to stay home until the test is done - which may take 6-8 weeks. The whole economy of Hong Kong would come to a halt and the community would not be able to bear it. Moreover, even if universal testing can identify all silent carriers and bring the number of new infections to zero, as long as the society is open to the public, there is no way to eliminate new imported cases. If the R&D of vaccines is successful, arranging universal vaccination is the right targeted solution.
From the perspective of scientific evidence, the view of government health experts is justified. In the previous trial of voluntary universal testing by the government, only a million or so people participated. Even with the assistance of mainland testing personnel coming to Hong Kong, the testing was still an uphill task with limited results - the silent cases identified were far less than expected. Health departments in Hong Kong might see universal testing as a pricey yet ineffective solution.
However, former CE CY Leung wrote an article advocating mandatory universal testing, arguing that it would only take a few days to complete and the economic impact would only be like having a typhoon for a few days. He said that the SAR Government was only making excuses when it said it was not feasible. Such remarks have been shared and supported by the party newspapers Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po. Several pro-Beijing parties have openly advocated in LegCo, wondering why the SAR government procrastinates. They said the SAR government could seek assistance from the Mainland if it does not have enough manpower. In this way, the pro-Beijing camp, which looks up to the Liaison Office, has already come to the conclusion that it is only politically correct to make testing mandatory for the whole population.
Why is the Liaison Office so insistent on mandatory universal testing? First of all, the Central Government is getting too impatient. In the race against the epidemic between China and the West, Beijing thinks that China is far ahead of the rest of the world, with very few cases of infection in the past six months, and the economy and people's livelihood have fully recovered. The Hong Kong SAR is the only one in its territory that has been hit by wave after wave of the pandemic. The results are far worse than those of the Mainland and the Macau SAR. The failure of Hong Kong to fight the epidemic has become a bête noire to Beijing.
From Beijing’s point of view, it took the SAR government led by Carrie Lam more than half a year, but still, it cannot quell the protest movement triggered by Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. In the end, Beijing decided to take direct action by promulgating a national security law for Hong Kong under the NPC system, with the National Security Department taking the lead in law enforcement, prosecution and even in swaying trials. Although this caused a strong reaction from the West and triggered a wave of emigration, Beijing thought that this was the only decisive way to take full control of Hong Kong's political situation and eliminate the opposition.
Along the same line of thought, the SAR Government has spent 10 months but still failed to effectively control the epidemic. Recently, there has been a major outbreak, with over 100 new cases every day. The source of many of these cases is unknown and cannot even be traced and isolated. This situation, which continues to spiral out of control, has led to strong dissatisfaction and growing impatience with the effectiveness of the HKSAR's governance. Ta Kung Pao attributed this to the “lack of managerial mindset” of Lam's team, which did not go all out as if the fight against the epidemic was a war. This reflects Beijing’s distrust and dissatisfaction with the Chief Executive who was a civil servant.
From the perspective of Mainland officials, as long as there is political determination, stringent laws and the State's mobilisation of resources, there is nothing that cannot be done. The key to the success or failure of mandatory universal testing is “mandatory”. The Mainland has succeeded because the government has the power to enforce it and the people is obedient. What Hong Kong has always lacked is “obedience”. In this way, universal testing can be used to train Hong Kong people to obey the government, and to punish those who do not.
After the completion of universal testing, to avoid a new chain of infection caused by new imported cases, it is time to make the use of health codes mandatory for all people. They will then be required to use their health codes when travelling, going to work and spending money. Once the big data shows that a person has been in contact with a new confirmed case, they will be isolated immediately. In this way, Hong Kong can be transformed into a submissive society with tight government control. By resisting universal testing, the SAR Government has wasted this great opportunity to transform society.
As Vice Chairman of CPPCC, CY Leung led his followers to take the initiative to attack Carrie Lam. It is believed that the leaders in Beijing are deeply dissatisfied with the SAR's performance in fighting the epidemic. They have focused on attacking the SAR government's refusal to conduct universal testing. They might characterise it as a lack of political determination, indecisiveness, responding with perfunctory attitude, aloofness from public sentiment, etc. The conclusion is that the Chief Executive must be replaced and the cabinet must be reorganised. This time, the trend against Carrie Lam is fierce and the pro-Beijing parties have joined the siege, probably because they see that the pan-democrats have been driven out of the legislature. When the cabinet is reshuffled, these parties will gain a higher status. When Carrie Lam replaced CY Leung as the Chief Executive, did she ever think that today would be the day?